Australia taking cyber fight to Isis, Malcolm Turnbull to confirm

Signals directorate is supporting coalition military operations in Iraq and Syria, PM will tell parliament

The prime minister will tell parliament on Wednesday that Australia’s cyber capability, through the Australian Signals Directorate, is being deployed offensively to support coalition military operations against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Malcolm Turnbull will make a security statement at noon addressing directly the sensitive subject of Australia’s offensive cyber capabilities – while the minister assisting the prime minister on cyber security, Dan Tehan, will use a separate outing at the National Press Club to argue that, domestically, Australia needs to step up its preparedness against hacking and malicious cyber-attacks.

In April the government confirmed that the Bureau of Meteorology and the Department of Parliamentary Services had been targets of cyber-attacks, and the prime minister also confirmed for the first time that Australia possessed the capability to launch such attacks.

Building on those revelations, according to an excerpt of the prime minister’s security statement, Turnbull will confirm for the first time on Wednesdaythat capabilities within the ASD are now supporting coalition operations against Isis in Iraq and Syria – as well as helping the government to respond to and deter cyber-attacks against Australian agencies.

The prime minister will say in the statement that he won’t provide details of specific operations, but cyber capabilities “are being used to make a difference to the military battle”.

Turnbull insists that “all offensive cyber activities in support of the ADF and our allies are subject to the same rules of engagement which govern the use of our other military capabilities in Iraq and Syria, such as our F/A-18 Hornets”.

Tehan will focus on domestic preparedness and identify four areas where Australia could improve its capacity to repel cyber-attacks. He will say the government needs to accelerate the implementation of its cyber security strategy “and look to where we can further address our vulnerabilities”.

“First, while government has a strong level of coordination against cyber threats, we need to stay ahead of the game,” Tehan will say. “Departments need to take greater responsibility for the security of their agencies and policy needs to reflect that all areas of cyber security – crime and safety – overlap.”

Tehan will also argue that government and businesses need to be clear when attacks occur, arguing that information needs to be released to the public as soon as the details become known “and it is safe and secure to do so”.

“And we need to encourage and create the environment where business can do the same.”

“Third, cybercrime is a growing problem and we need to be more proactive. Cybercrime can be deterred and we should protect ourselves and our communities just as we do offline in the real world by having a strong cop on the beat and other forms of social and civil rules of the road.

“Fourth, we need to work with businesses and state and territory governments to better secure our critical infrastructure. This will involve better coordination and strong legislation reform, where appropriate.”

Contributor

Katharine Murphy Political editor

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